Our Last Chance for a Fair and Accurate Census

We are perilously close to a failed 2020 Census, the impact of which would be felt for the next decade and beyond

We might have a failed census on our hands.

From the Trump Administration’s last-minute political appointments to the Census Bureau to their rushing the count, our democracy is in crisis. This is why every resident, regardless of what happens, must still respond to the census before the Bureau ends the count by September 30, or perhaps later if the courts so determine.

The census is a constitutionally mandated event that occurs every 10 years. It is the tool through which the government decides how to disburse over $1.5 trillion in federal funds and determine congressional representation. These decisions create ripple effects that are felt throughout public life — all stemming from census data — which, if inaccurate, will lead to a decade of imbalance.

Every census arrives with distinct circumstances. As populations change, these environments shift; however, 2020 has been marked by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, we are in the middle of a national reckoning on race — a dialogue that brings questions about our systems, community investments, and our very democracy, front and center.

These conversations continue under the assumption that fairness and equity are simply a matter of our collective courage and willingness to consider them as we look to the future. While that is in part true, it is not entirely the case.

While we must face our nation’s history and look to how we can create a more equitable future, we cannot forget that a failed census could thwart many of the actionable changes we would seek to make on this front.

The foundational beginnings for any conversations around our democracy, funding, and civil rights are inextricably tied to the accuracy of the census. This is why if we want to do anything about racial injustice in America, have data-driven conversations around the allocation of resources and local budgets, and mean what we say when we declare that Black lives matter, we must have a full and accurate census as the cornerstone of all the change we wish to see.

We know the Administration’s interference continues to promote a flawed census. This is why we have a responsibility to fight back by making sure everyone in our networks is counted, particularly those who are considered “hard to count” and unfortunately missed. This responsibility is essential not just for the sake of fulfilling a civic duty or because of what is at stake if we do not, but because of what we can accomplish if we do.

Fortunately, self-responding to the census has never been easier, but time is running out. When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to follow public health guidelines in a city-wide effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, he said: “We are all first-responders in this crisis.” Similarly, we are all enumerators in this census.

This is why the National Latino Commission on Census 2020 remains dedicated to seeing a successful census, with our members throughout the country providing countless examples of their localities’ unified hard work around this mission.

Dallas County Treasurer Pauline Medrano spoke on the work happening in the local Latino community where folks are connecting with the possibilities of the census. She points to the work of young, local leaders like Herlinda Resendiz, and how the community is drawing the connection between what the Black Lives Matter movement is voicing with respect to protecting civil rights policies, many of which are tied to the accuracy of census data.

A similar sentiment was shared by Central Falls, Rhode Island Mayor James Diossa, who spoke on the strong solidarity between Latinos and Black Americans, and the need for accurate census data to make appropriate investments and provide adequate services, despite the rhetoric coming out of Washington.

Similarly, Ohio Latino Affairs Commission Executive Director, Lilleana Cavanaugh added that while easing folks’ fears and confusion around the census has been difficult, young leaders and nonprofits are playing a critical role in getting out the count.

Our members reflect the urgency seen throughout the country on the census. Ultimately, no one is “hard to count” but rather easy to miss, or perhaps purposefully excluded. We must uplift our communities and see that everyone is counted, from children to the elderly. These individuals need us now more than ever, which is what makes this moment our last chance to see that we assert our presence and claim our space by making sure we are all counted.

Residents can self-respond to the census by visiting https://my2020census.gov/ or over the phone in English by dialing 844–330–2020 or in Spanish at 844–468–2020. Paper census forms can be returned in the mail once completed.

Alex Padilla is California’s 29th Secretary of State.

Arturo Vargas is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and NALEO Educational Fund.